Ten time zones and 24 hours of flight. It was my leading into the third world.
The one word that first comes to mind regaring the trip to Uganda is ” stretched”. Flourishing outside of my comfort zone. The first interaction with God was on the fight to LAX. The panic of nearly missing my connecting flight showed My willingness to rely on my plans rather that what God’s plan may be. The immediate second, was the fact my luggage would not arrive with me in Uganda. As I delved into the first days of the journey, I started seeing the care and planning of my clothing and comforts were not necessary. I had a pair of jeans and two shirts. I bought a pair of underwear and on the first Thursday, I rummaged for two pairs of shorts at the market. The irony of it all was I purchased clothing that had been discarded and shipped by Goodwill. These clothes were the castoffs of America. The problem, I was told, was that clothes bought in bales from overseas replaced a very important aspect of Ugandan economy which was manufacturing clothing for their own consumption.I had already seen many able seamstresses and even more beautiful fabrics.
The first joy seen, was in the faces. So many wonderful faces filled with smiles and comfort. These were faces that also may have been hungry or even fatherless. There is an interesting peace in the third world. A peace westerners will never know becuase we have built too many comforts into life leaving little option to simplify. Until our pendulum swings from the wasting so much to pangs of not enough, our complaints are meritless. These beautiful faces, calling out “Muzungu” to me – white man – then laughing. Laughing infectiously. There is no racism – only faces tied to beautiful souls. I was stared at by almost everyone. White is truly a minority. There was wonderment in a child’s eyes as she touches a white arm and tugs on arm hair. It is all so innocent. The median age in Uganda is 15. So, there is a abundance of this innocence and a very specific need to raise a new generation in the instruction and care of the Lord. The clear pathway to evangelism, as I learned and felt very comfortable with, was through a nurturing development of relationships and a gentle practical approach to God’s influence in life. The mission field is alive and pouring out fruit constantly as the prayer of salvation begins a pilgrimage of hope and trust. It is truly a blessed place. I was overcome from the start.
The land is beautiful and diverse. There is a pall cast of cooking smoke with beans and cassava mixed with the smell of burning garbage. On the road to Soroti there were fields of sugar cane, maize, and tea. Swampland, hillsides, rainforest came and went from sight. Then urban traffic is filled with taxis and bodas and an occassional resting cow in the roundabout. All traffic moves as if choreographed to perfect harmony. Goats,pedestrians,and bicycles all take the exact amount of space to progress forward. The short distance through Kampala can take hours. It is rainy season but rain is infrequent. This is a problem as irrigation on village farms is nonexistent and crops are the mainstay of each village compound. A compound consists of a central building with several peripheral single room buildings – mud bricks and thatch roofs. Each sleeping area is equipt with a mosquito net, mat, or mattress. There is an area for outdoor cooking. The journey from Entebbe to Soroti is a long one and mile by mile, the interaction of livestock, school children, and two-wheeled transports are prevalent. Village after village is passed – first with lunch cooking, workers harvesting tea and sugar cane, to the eventual sunset outside of Soroti as we approach our destination. Some stops in small towns allow for chicken skewers salesmen to rush cars to make a few shillings. It is apparent that Uganda is very different from the west. Adaptation to this new environment happens quickly. The west disappears with the new sunset over Soroti.
We arrived at the Soroti compound to a smiling ‘Welcome Back’ from my new best friend, Edemu. Food of rice and goat were very soon served. I instantly loved it. The moon rose full and the silhouette of Africa was all around me. My first night sleep was hot and slow but eventually I fell into slumber. The next day coffee and eggs and chapati. Before that however, the slow compound routine began and did not end until all chickens, ducks, turkeys, and pigeons, were fed and all children were off to school. I met: Omasto, who accompanied us on the trip from the airport, Peter, Daniel, Isabel, Colman, Philip, and Edemu. We went to Soroti town that day and then onto the Thursday market to buy goats. The goats were purchased by US sponsors to give to five young village recipients to get a start in life. Attaining livestock, land, and family is a good start and with a good foundation in the Lord, makes for a great life opportunity.
The market was hot and functional. Functional meaning the bulk of items for sale were necessities. The temperature was 85 degrees and humid. Ruudy went to buy the goats and Beckie and I went the opposite direction. If we were to stay with Ruudy, he would only get a ‘muzungu’ price for the goats. We went to supplement my meager wardrobe with Goodwill castoffs.
Delivering the goats proved to be a great experience. We were to meet the children at school and ask for their early lunch release. Omasto knew where each child lived. We gathered two who lived the farthest from the school and set out to home. The road home was a four-wheel drive, narrow passage through brush. By the time se reached the first house, the road had dwindled to a path and we walked the remaining distance. At the home of the first girl, we were immediately offered a place to sit. The hospitality is incredible. A young man must pay a dowry of several cows to his prospective bride’s parents or family. The purpose of giving a goat is to begin a livestock collection that will grow leading to many goats and the opportunity to trade goats for cows. This is a very effective way to holistically prepare young people for responsibility. As we were walking to various compounds, I found the need to pinch myself to see if it was really true that was walking in Africa.
On Saturday, the Christ Embassy church was kicking off a weekly youth gathering at the church filled with worship, dancing, and preaching – all praise to our Father. I was informed I needed to prepare a 20 minute sermon to present to about 150 youth. This was another example of God stretching me and I did not fear. I spent Friday afternoon preparing a sermon. Ruudy explained his Uganda vision that after surrendering to Jesus, the real task was discipleship. Build a Chirst-centered foundation in the individual and organically, His love would spread. I agree with this methodolgy whole-heartedly as I prepared a sermon on Biblical foundation principals. The title was “Peace, Wisdom, and Love”. The Bible has no end to scripture supporting and fortifying these principals. God makes spreading His word easy. God is alive. I immediately felt His presence and His hand. Uganda is drawing me in and my passion for the beautiful hearts there is growing.
The Uganda church is alive. People seeking God and being filled with the Holy Spirit. I thoroughly enjoyed all two and a half hours of the service. The evening consisted of a men’s fellowship where we had good discussions about marriage and marriage communication. All things here in the Lord are functional and good. Hit the enemy where he surely will fail. The problem I have seen in a very short time is broken families and large family numbers. Low to no income, scarce food, broken families: all a poor prospect for success. When young men are passionate about learning how to thrive in a marriage rather than continuing in generational failure, it is part of the holistic foundation building that will glorify God. I strongly believe this generation will break all enemy strongholds and shine God’s light.I saw the heart of the generation and it has God’s promise.
Purity is a wonderful thing. Unplanned families, sexually transmitted disease, and HIV, can become part of the Ugandan past. This is not just idealistic; but, is realistic and indeed possible. During the times I spoke to the youth of Soroti, I felt eager eyes and minds trying to absorb every word. Infectious laughs and smiles with loving hearts, are forefront on this discipleship journey. Desire is seen in the eyes of youth; desire to know God better. The process of bringing people to Jesus is far eclipsed by the need for discipleship. They are willing but the workers are few. Teaching the youth of Uganda about success with an organic approach, stikes the heart of a generation. Poverty is fed with knowledge and hope with foundational Christianity. There is a chance and I see it here where there will be those that drill wells and help the sick and there will be others that teach that the Bible is truth and the pefect guideline for life. I see it in yearning eyes pressing into words at a Bible study. I feel it in the hugs of young men ready to break a generational mold inherited.I see it in the eyes of the village elders who know God is he way. There can be change and there will be.
Sponsoring a child in Soroti is another key to succes. Once a foundation is fortified, a clear direction is needed. Food, school fees, lights for homework, and clothing are needed and can be given at alow cost. To get the ball rolling for young person, the gap can be filled with American overindulgence. Not to slam our culture, it means that we can easily fit support of twenty or thirty dollars a month into our budget. A little goes a long way. Primary and Secondary education leading to University. There is a need to raise doctors and lawyers from within the indigenous culture. There is also a need to teach farming technique, water procurement, livestock husbandry, disease controls, safe living practice, and so much more. Uganda is a blank slate with eager eyes hopeful to learn and thrive. The smiling faces of the children reflect the hope for the future. Raw optimism and childlike idealism can be fed and nurtured to a reality.
Gracious hospitality and the offering of food was a bit of a challenge at first, but clearly an adaptable challenge. From the first day I transitioned from Ethiopian Airlines food to true farm-to-fork. Vegetables, beans, maize, and goat, were gathered from within a small radius. If food was was not raised in the same compound, it was puchased at local markets. Eating fresh meat without refrigeration turned out not to be a problem – stigma or otherwise. Simply eat and enjoy. I lost 10 pounds in Uganda and ate very well. It is lesson for Americans. Eat whole and fresh foods and cut out the multitude of unnecessary creature comfort foods. I was so worried at first about getting sick but after immersing into eating, fear subsided. My stomach survived the culinary culture shift. However, ironically, I contactd Malaria despite anti-malarial precautions. It was not a severe case, but it really felt it in my stomach and with a fever. I went to a Ugandan hospital where I was given a full blood test. Then I received the necessary antibiotics. It was my second to last day and the prospect of a seven hour trip to Jinja was unnerving with diarrhea and vomiting. I spent the last night in Soroti at a small hotel where I could have a bit more comfort and privacy. I said goodbye to the compound family and left. It was solemn and joyful. So much love. The memory of Edemu returning to the compound with a turkey of nearly equal size slung over his back. Teaching Peter the few guitar chords I knew. Washing Daniel’s feet. Watercolors with Isabel. Sharing some old cartoons on YouTube with Colman, Philip, and Edemu. The gift of a new Bible for Omasto. Surely he is great in he eyes of the Lord.
I keep thinking back to personalities. Personal connection is key to evangelism and discipleship. God is about relationships as a close one with Him is paramount in our faith. The love between people is a tie between hearts. With each goodbye, I felt such a tie. I miss the constant talking in Teso and laughing. I miss being called by my African name – Ijo kotau, kind heart. The physical connection in Uganda is seen from the very start and is missed here at home. We have built a culture of fear and distrust but I know we can find the good in people if we try.
Leaving was sad. I really felt this trip changed me although it was not easily articulated. I pray I have articulated my personal journey here. I came home sick and with my back out of sorts. I wonder if the enemy is displeased. I pray all glory to God.